Beware the Shiny Object

Remember the world’s formerly greatest golfer, Eldrick (We Used to Call Him Tiger) Woods? In the pursuit of shiny objects and new motor skills (like late-night text messaging), Tiger neglected to put in the hours on his core meal-ticket staples like driving, chipping, putting, and getting a full night’s sleep. Now, instead of winning majors, he’s missing cuts. In a competitive profession, raw talent only gets you so far.

At least Tiger will probably die rich regardless of what he does. For the rest of us, there can be serious financial consequences to wandering off course.

As ad formats and reporting opportunities seem to multiply exponentially, you can get dizzy with the array of cool features and tactics to try out.

It’s important to add new tricks to your repertoire, but not at the expense of overall client performance.

Look at this example of how the Sitelinks extension is deployed in AdWords in a query for “Sunglass Hut.” (Note: I have no relationship to the company. I am drawing on other client data for broad insight into user click behavior.)


A couple of things about this. First and foremost, if you look inside the actual data breakdowns for any similar Sitelinks extension, you’ll see that the CTR on the unit as a whole is typically very high, but that only a tiny number of users click on any of the smaller navigational links. On paper, there is considerable logic to testing out the units, but what you won’t have is data that tells you which of the little links is most effective (although you could chase that dream by adding a modifier to each link so you could dig into the tiny amount of data for each, using Web analytics). Anyway, it’s just an example of a shiny object that looks a lot cooler from a distance than it does up close.

Another point is that Google, not you, controls the selection of links that are displayed if you enter the maximum number of links allowable. And Google’s technology decides when users will see the extension unit. As much as you might want to control that, outside of brand terms and some other high-CTR or high-Quality Score scenarios, you won’t see these units showing up at your beck and call. And you can’t customize much in response to any meager amounts of response data you might be working with, or communications goals you might want to execute on.

Yet you may spend a lot of time thinking about this type of unit, discussing best practices and scenarios at the industry conferences, watching videos about how Sunglass Hut is doing it, etc.

Why? Isn’t that disproportionate to the lift you’re getting, and to the much more important tasks you need to focus on throughout the account management process? Yes it is. So why do we do this?

Because we’re supposed to be “advanced,” especially when speaking in public.

What’s “advanced,” though, about forgetting that the thing you’re analyzing to death only generated six clicks in 60 days?

A more striking example of this is the endless fascination with “extreme long tail” keyword research and campaign management. In the true long tail – all those unpredictable, infrequent user queries that are not going to be gathered in by relying on keyword match types, that have some chance of converting, that have annual search frequencies of less than 20, and annual click counts of one or two – you can expect to generate significantly less than 1 percent of your company’s revenues from paid search. Most of the “near long tail,” moreover – that slightly meatier part of the search frequency curve that may generate around 5 percent of total revenues – no longer needs to be accessed through mysterious means.

Current keyword tools are quite good at finding these for you, as are a couple of other methods of sound project management, including proper use of analytics and competitive intelligence tools. Chances are, if you’re doing a very good job of this, then you’re covering nearly 100 percent of the keyword universe. I won’t go so far as to say that keyword research is a commodity, but it’s fair to say that if one reasonably intelligent advertiser has access to a list of relevant keywords, then many others can fairly easily access this.

And thanks to the vagaries of Quality Score, there is no guarantee that these hidden gems will provide stronger ROI or cheaper CPCs. In some cases, they might even cost more.

So why do we spend so much time chasing these obscure keywords, wishing on them, bragging about them, and theorizing about them? The pursuit of the shiny object.

Needless to say, there are many other shiny objects today in the paid search game, and some are shiny for good reason.

But you have to catch yourself when you start falling victim to the “1-99 folly” (the polar opposite of the 90-10 or 80-20 rule) – overfocusing on the part of the volume curve that generates 1 percent of the action, as opposed to a sensible focus on the other 99 percent.

There are several reasons that it’s easier said than done to break out of the “1-99 folly.” And that’s why we’ll find ourselves fighting the temptations of such distractions again and again. The reasons include:

  • Letting “passion” rule over probabilities.
  • Old proverbs about “taking care of nickels and dimes.”
  • It’s heresy to assume one’s profession is entirely about making money.
  • It’s heresy to analyze a mistake by saying “it’s only money.”
  • Seeing good vs. evil where you should see shades of gray, or “more vs. less.”
  • Insufficient outlets for true professional development and creativity.

I’ll cover these in the next column.

Related reading

Screenshot shows a Google search for outdoor grills, the shopping ads shows images with “in store” showing the product is available nearby.
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